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A-Rod at center of Yanks' 103rd win

A-Rod at center of Yanks' 103rd win

ST. PETERSBURG -- Alex Rodriguez sat on the dugout bench before Sunday's game at Tropicana Field, trying to explain how his statistics weren't all that important this year. Then he went out and posted two round numbers that will be very meaningful indeed.

Belting two home runs to collect an American League-record seven RBIs in the sixth inning, Rodriguez bid farewell to his regular season in style. The third baseman finished with 30 homers and 100 RBIs as the Yankees vaulted into the playoffs with a 10-2 victory over the Rays.

Rodriguez had been joking with Mariano Rivera before the Yankees' 162nd game of the season, noting that he probably would not reach the 30 and 100 marks for the 13th season in his career -- 12th in succession. New York's 10-run sixth inning changed all of that, and even Rodriguez was surprised.

"I didn't think about it much," Rodriguez said. "I didn't think it was realistic at all, therefore it wasn't even a goal. I kind of had conceded that, especially with all of the days off we've been taking here of late. I thought the rest was obviously more important for the hip than anything else. It was a gift from God."

Preparing for next week's AL Division Series, New York's Major League-leading 103rd victory -- the club's best since it won 104 games in 2002 -- was highlighted by the pair of long balls from Rodriguez.

"It was awesome," said Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. "That was a great inning for him and for the team. It was great for him to have a nice offensive outburst like that in the last game of your season. It gave us some momentum going into Wednesday."

The three-run homer in the sixth inning off Rays starter Wade Davis set a franchise record as the Bombers' 243rd roundtripper of the season, surpassing a total set in 2004.

Later in that inning, the Rays intentionally walked Teixeira, the AL homer co-champion, keeping him tied with Carlos Pena at 39. Rodriguez then came back around to hit the 18th grand slam of his career, tying Mark McGwire on baseball's all-time list with 583 career home runs.

It was an amazing feat to the Yankees, considering Rodriguez missed 28 games before coming back from right hip surgery.

"That's kind of ridiculous right there," said Yankees starter A.J. Burnett. "It couldn't have happened any better for him, to end up with 30 and 100 like that. When you miss the amount of time he's missed, it shows you how special of a player he is and how lucky we are to have him over here."

Rodriguez credited general manager Brian Cashman and Dr. Marc Philippon for helping guide him through his recovery, which saw him spend weeks in a Vail, Colo., hospital before returning to the Yankees on May 8 at Baltimore.

"I think the fact that I was able to stay healthy after that was obviously the most important thing," Rodriguez said. "Give our medical staff a lot of credit, because overall, they came up with a plan that we stuck with. It was a solid plan, and I'm glad we stuck with it."

With the Yankees seeing 13 batters in the lengthy sixth inning, reliever Andy Sonnanstine committed a throwing error on a Jose Molina dribbler that allowed a run to score, and Johnny Damon continued to break out of a personal slide with a two-run double.

The support came just in the nick of time for Burnett, who was making his final tuneup start before taking the ball in either Game 2 or 3 of the ALDS against either the Tigers or Twins. The victory was the 100th of his career.

"It only took me 10 years," Burnett said. "Better late than never, I guess."

Suitable for Framing
A look at where Alex Rodriguez's seven-RBI inning ranks among the all-time biggest innings in Major League history.
RBIs
Player
Team
Date
Inning
8Fernando Tatis STLApril 23, 19993rd
7Alex Rodriguez NYYOct. 4, 20096th
6David Ortiz BOSAug. 12, 20081st
6Raul Ibanez SEAAug. 4, 20087th
6Bobby Abreu NYYSept. 12, 20061st
6Juan Rivera MONJune 19, 20046th
6Matt Williams CLEAug. 27, 19974th
6Matt Stairs OAKJuly 5, 19961st
6Carlos Quintana BOSJuly 30, 19913rd
6Dale Murphy ATLJuly 27, 19896th
6Andre Dawson MONSept. 24, 19855th
6Jim Ray Hart SFJuly 8, 19705th
6Jim Lemon WASSept. 5, 19593rd
6Sam Mele CWSJune 10, 19524th
6Gil McDougald NYYMay 3, 19519th
6Joe Astroth PHISept. 23, 19506th
6Tom McBride BOSAug. 4, 19454th
6Bob Johnson PHIAug. 29, 19371st
6Fred Merkle NYGMay 13, 19111st*
* occurred before RBIs were officially adopted in 1920

Stringing together his fourth consecutive solid start, Burnett limited the Rays to two runs (one earned) on seven hits over five innings before making way for the Yankees' continuing bullpen auditions.

Burnett served up Evan Longoria's 33rd homer in the first inning and an unearned run on a passed ball in the fifth, finishing his first Yankees season 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA. He limited opponents to five earned runs over his final 24 innings, washing away a poor August.

"I guess it's me being on top of myself, not letting things bother me, realizing what's a little off when it's a little off instead of waiting until it's too late, delivery-wise," Burnett said. "Positive thoughts."

With a sequence of five relievers coming on to get their last regular-season outs before the playoffs, Joba Chamberlain's nine-pitch seventh inning might have been the most important.

Auditioning for a roster spot in the ALDS, when the Yankees won't need a fourth starter, Chamberlain shrugged off 31 starts in 2009 and returned to his old ways, firing a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout.

Manager Joe Girardi said that Chamberlain looked good and a little different from the starter who has struggled of late, which will give the Yankees something to think about on their flight back to New York.

"It wasn't too weird, actually coming to the park and knowing my routine and what I had to do," Chamberlain said. "It felt good."

The bookends of Rodriguez's season saw him slug a three-run home run on his first swing at Camden Yards on May 8 and a grand slam on his last cut of the regular season, which Girardi said he hopes will springboard Rodriguez into a big postseason.

"I've had a real good feeling about him," Girardi said. "What he accomplished this year, he had a great year. Look at the 100 RBIs and the number of at-bats he had, the home runs. He had a tremendous year and a great month of September. This is a pretty good start to October."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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